Minnow Facts

By Jennifer Carey

The minnow is a small fish often raised by fishing enthusiasts as bait. Several minnow species, including the goldfish, are a favorite hobby fish as well. Minnows are highly adaptable fish found in a multitude of climates and conditions across most of North America.


The term "minnow" describes any small silvery fish. However, "minnow" is the common name for the family Cyprinidae. Cyprinidae is the largest family of fish found in North America. Most native species of minnows are under 4 inches in length and have a relatively short lifespan of three to four years. Larger minnow varieties can live up to 10 years. Accurate identification of minnow species is difficult, and scientists are careful to consider all characteristics.


Native minnow species common to North America include creek chub, fallfish, golden shiner and common shiner. The exotic carp and the goldfish are also members of the Cyprinidae family and are both non-native species found in the fresh waters of North America. Bluntnose minnows and fathead minnows are two species from the Cyprinidae family and are both commonly raised as bait fish.


Minnows are an abundant group of fish due in no small part to the fact that they tolerate a wide variety of habitats. Most minnows live in freshwater, but some species live in brackish water also. While some minnows prefer colder waters, other species thrive in waters that range from cold to warm. Headwater bogs, swamps, springs, ponds and lakes all make suitable homes for various minnow species.


Minnows reach spawning age relatively quickly. They lay their eggs on or near the bottom of aquatic plants such as algae. In a few minnow species, the male fish builds a nest and keeps guard while the eggs mature. Typically, minnows spawn between early spring and midsummer.


Minnows are raised both as bait fish and pets. They are hearty fish and relatively easy to keep. A freshwater tank that is equipped with a submersible water pump, filter and temperature regulator is all you need to get started. Choose a tank at least 2 to 4 feet deep and 6 to 8 feet long. Maintain the minnow tank's temperature at 65 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Use only de-chlorinated water in the tank.